Local Government Bill [H.L.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 6th December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 9:30 pm, 6th December 1999

My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate on a Bill which will make a substantial difference to the way in which local government is conducted. I should like to commend two or three aspects of the debate: first, the speech of my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, which demonstrated his breadth and length of experience in local government, which will, I hope, inform remaining debates on the Bill and the other debates that we shall doubtless have on local government.

Although it may be considered invidious, I should like also to single out the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth. I commend him both on his remarks today and on the work that he did in promoting a Bill which unfortunately fell in another place. During its passage, many of these concepts and ideas were pursued and that stands us in good stead. I know that the noble Lord has a few doubts about aspects of this Bill, but local government is the richer for his having pursued his earlier proposals.

I also want to record my thanks to the Joint Committee, and particularly to those committee members who have spelt out their concerns in this debate.

I had better address two amendments before coming to the meat of the Bill. The first relates to the procedural issues that were raised mainly by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, but also by his noble friend Lady Hamwee at the beginning of the debate. That is why we are in a situation whereby further amendments will be required before the Bill is considered by this House in Committee, so as to introduce into the Bill responses to the Joint Committee report and the Government's reaction to it.

I do not think it is completely fair to compare the situation in regard to this Bill with that of the GLA Bill. I quietly had a little sympathy with noble Lords during proceedings on the GLA Bill--not as regards the substance but the procedure. However, that Bill had passed through the other House and amendments came before this House on Report and at Third Reading. The concerns expressed then were legitimate. The Bill with which we are now dealing comes before this House first. There will be amendments. However, I assure the noble Lord that, as far as is reasonably possible, we shall produce all the substantive amendments to which I have referred in time for the Committee stage. I am not in a position to give an absolute assurance that every amendment will be there, but we shall do substantially better than we did on the GLA Bill, albeit that that Bill had already passed through the other House.